The Louisiana Suggested Joint Custody and Visitation Plan is outdated and is ripe for a change. Currently the “suggestion”, which is a starting point for most custody and visitation agreements, is that the non-domiciliary parent gets visitation every other weekend and each Wednesday night. There are exceptions for holidays and vacations, but that’s the gist of it. This type of “visitation” schedule is based on the archaic notion that dad is the sole breadwinner and mom is the sole caregiver, and unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves.
Moving toward a 50/50 shared custody agreement benefits not only the children, but also you as a newly divorced parent in several ways:
CHILDREN ARE EXPENSIVE!!!!
My first-born, John Francis, is 7 months old. He’s a baby, less than 10% the size of his father, and over the past 10-12 months I have spent more on him than I have on myself. Everyone told me that kids were expensive, but like most bits of advice it didn’t sink in until it happened.
Based on a 2013 USDA Report, the average cost of raising a child to the age of 18 is $245, 340 (or $304,480 adjusted for projected inflation). Discounting the inflation, that comes out to $1135.83 per child per month. Using the 2014 Louisiana Child Support Guidelines, the combined monthly gross income of the parents of two children, would have to be $149,000 in order to be allocated that amount. Where there are three children, the combined income would need to be roughly $228,000 per year. The average upper middle class household income in Louisiana is $88,328 based on 2013 numbers.
What this means is that although child support is an extremely important consideration, it should in no way be the driving factor in how you structure your custody and visitation agreement. So many people argue about custody just because they want the child support award to be bigger, or the payment to be lower, without ever questioning the practical application of the award.
Based on the overwhelming likelihood that you will not be getting a child support award that actually covers the cost of the children, it actually benefits you financially, even if it lowers your overall support number, to allow your ex-spouse to spend more time with the kids so that the costs can be more equally shared. When the kids aren’t with you, they aren’t raiding your refrigerator.
BEING A SINGLE PARENT IS HARD
By refusing to allow your ex-spouse close to 50% of the time with the kids, you are essentially making yourself a single parent. You are now responsible for EVERYTHING – all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, all of the driving to school and extracurricular activities, all of the homework, all of the bad days, and all while you are trying to adjust to a major change in your own life and working full-time to make ends meet.
Just writing that sentence stressed me out. I don’t know how people are able to pull it together to handle all of that, but I have a lot of respect for the people who can make it happen without falling apart. The thing is, it’s unnecessary. By agreeing to a shared custody plan, you’re only a single parent half of the time. You have the other half to work on your life, to meet with your support system, to exercise, to pray, and to have a good cry without worrying about the kids seeing you. If you are going through the hardest event in your life, you need time to take care of yourself.
LESS FIGHTING WITH THE EX
There is evidence which shows that shared custody arrangements lead to less conflict between the parents, which is beneficial to everyone. A review of 33 studies involving homes with sole custody arrangements and homes with shared custody arrangements showed that it was the sole-custody parents who reported higher levels of current conflict and that shared custody may reduce conflict between the parents over time.
Undoubtedly the cost of raising children, coupled with the stress of being a full-time single parent creates animosity toward your ex-spouse. Feelings that they aren’t doing as much as you for the children probably keep the issues that you had during the end of your marriage from falling to the wayside. Having time to yourself and knowing that your ex is working just as much (if not as hard) as you will alleviate some of that stress and make it easier to deal with them when you have to. And as the studies indicate, relieving yourself of stress and conflict also creates a less stressful situation for your children.
SHARED CUSTODY IS LESS STRESSFUL FOR CHILDREN
When applying the best interest of the child standard, the prevailing notion has been that providing a single, stable home environment with one domiciliary parent created less stress on the child. But a 2015 study of almost 150,000 children found the results to be quite the opposite. According to the study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, children who spend equal time with each parent suffer from less stress than those living mostly or only with one parent.
These studies view not only short-term issues associated with a new lifestyle for the children, but also the long-term affects of shared custody vs sole custody. I can’t imagine the stress a child must feel when, in their minds, they are being ripped from a family environment and set into a situation where one parent is now undertaking their own great deal of stress. De-stressing the situation as a whole, by making life easier on the parents, will de-stress the situation for the children. And custody agreements by their nature should always be framed around what is best for the children.
I realize that some scenarios won’t allow for a true shared custody arrangement due to shift work, offshore work, or other schedules which make 50/50 nearly impossible. But when at all possible, if you put aside the differences that brought you to the point of divorce, you and your children will benefit from some form of a shared custody plan than what is currently suggested in Louisiana.
Written By: Sean Corcoran – Lake Charles, Louisiana Family Law Attorney